Meet the Team

Lauren Czajka
Executive Director

Lauren joined the YouthRoots crew in 2013. Her background is in experiential education and she holds an MA in Human Rights from the University of Denver. Her favorite activity is doing anything outside with her husband and toddler. She loves working with inspiring youth who make the world a better place.

Erin Button
Program Manager

Erin joined the YouthRoots team in October 2018 after moving to Colorado from Chicago. She has a Masters of Nonprofit Management from DePaul University and almost 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. During her free time, Erin enjoys reading, baking, and hiking with her husband and two fur-babies.

Alyssa Hornyak
Program & Admin Coordinator

Originally from Michigan, Alyssa’s love of the mountains brought her to Denver to pursue her Master of Social Work at DU. She completed her practicum with YouthRoots and transitioned to full-time in August 2019. She brings experience and a passion for youth empowerment to YouthRoots. Outside of the office, Alyssa loves hiking, traveling, and exploring Denver.

Jenn Ragain
Program Coordinator

Jenn received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver in 2017 after completing her practicum with YouthRoots. Her expertise is in operations and program development with a passion for youth voice. In her spare time, she enjoys being outside with her partner and dog or snuggling with her cats. 

Alyssa Chavez
Admin Assistant

Alyssa Chavez is a part-time administrative assistant for YouthRoots while earning her bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Relations at the University of Colorado Denver. A YouthRoots alum, Alyssa has always had a passion for youth empowerment. At home, she enjoys spending time with her friends and her dog. Alyssa also has a love for traveling, reading, and movies. 

Emily Dandaro-Peres
MSW Intern

Emily is our intern and second-year graduate Social Work student at the University of Denver. She has also earned a BA in Psychology and Sociology from Indiana University and is passionate about social justice. During her free time, Emily enjoys listening to podcasts, hiking, and exploring new places in Colorado.

Aaron Earley
Facilitator - North Denver (1) YouthBoard

Aaron earned his Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver while completing his practicum with YouthRoots in 2014. He is now a Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado and serves as the North YouthBoard Facilitator.

Javon Brame
Facilitator - Central Denver YouthBoard

Javon was born and raised in Colorado and grew up in Northeast Denver (Park Hill).  He is ardent about advocating on behalf of others and being a conduit for the voices of constituencies, as well as seeking to disrupt traditional notions of philanthropy by giving his time, talent, treasure and testimony. He is the past board chair and grant chairman for Denver African American Philanthropists and served on the non-profit internship committee at the Denver Foundation. Most recently, Javon was appointed to serve as a founding advisory committee member for the Black Resilience in Colorado Fund (BRiC) at the Denver Foundation.

Zach Booz
Facilitator - South Denver YouthBoard

Like Chauncy Billups and Chipotle, Zach was born in Denver and has been proud to call Colorado home for most of his life. Zach has spent the bulk of his professional career working in youth development, education and facilitation. He’s worked with young people all over the world in and out of the classroom. He’s also heavily involved with The Chinook Fund, a local grassroots social justice fund. Outside of work, Zach enjoys reading or sleeping under a tree, snuggling his dog, watching TV, dancing in his kitchen, singing in his shower, cooking with his partner, backpacking with friends and/or soaking his body in hot springs.

Christymarie Jackson
Facilitator - Aurora YouthBoard
Christymarie Jackson serves as an Equity and Social Justice Consultant on the Community for Public Practice at the Washington State Department of Health.  In this role, she supports integrating equity and social justice within the Washington State Health Department. 
Christymarie is passionate about working with young adults. She has over 10 years of experience working with youth. Prior to working at the Washington State Department Health, she coordinated youth activities for Denver Public Health and the Denver City and County. Christymarie completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Colorado College and a Masters of Public Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.  
Corey Mastroianni
Facilitator - Douglas County YouthBoard

Corey works as a school social worker at Morgridge Academy, a K-8 school for kids with chronic illnesses on the National Jewish Health hospital campus. She grew up in Colorado Springs, CO and stayed close to home for school white getting her Bachelor’s degree at CU Boulder and Master’s at University of Denver. She's passionate about supporting communities through schools and empowering youth for positive change. 

Amy Navvab
Facilitator - North Denver (2) YouthBoard

Amy has been involved in youth leadership and facilitation work since she was a high school student. She has a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan and over five years of experience as a restorative justice practitioner. She currently is a School Social Worker in Jefferson County Public Schools. 

Tierney Lain
Facilitator - Boulder 15 Forever YouthBoard

Tierney is the 15 Forever Facilitator and teaches middle school in Brighton, CO. She has a Master’s in Agriculture Education and has spent her career empowering people to discover opportunities to become more innovative, informed, and interesting.

Ann Kolbrek
Facilitator - Sioux Falls Youth Advisory Council

Ann is the facilitator for the Youth Advisory Council of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation which uses the YouthRoots program to empower youth to make a difference! She was in YAC with our founder when the idea of YouthRoots was planted.

Melissa Heston
Co-Facilitator - Yellow Springs Youth Action Board

Melissa has more than 40 years' experience as a competitive athlete, fitness professional, and dance/theatre artist. She holds a BFA and MFA in Dance and has worked with several nonprofits, universities, and schools in the US in a variety of positions. A “jack of all trades,” she has nimbly shifted from providing food to the food insecure during the pandemic, to ushering the Yellow Springs Schools through the Youth Action Board, scholarship and grant processes, to overseeing the Foundation's social media presence, all while maintaining her full-time job as owner of a personal training company. During her free time, Melissa enjoys partaking in outdoor activities - from gardening to hiking, biking, kayaking, and just sitting by water and watching the waves roll by. Melissa is the wife of Mary Kay Smith (a local business owner) and a mother of 3.

Linda Sikes
Co-Facilitator - Yellow Springs Youth Action Board

Linda grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio and attended Antioch College.  After graduation, she taught special education and later worked for the Antioch College's Admissions Office. She earned an MA in Educational Psychology and returned to teaching in the Dayton Public Schools and the Yellow Springs schools before finishing her career as a guidance counselor at Yellow Springs High School. After retiring from teaching in 2015, Linda traveled extensively and committed herself to volunteer work. In October 2020, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation offered her a position as an Encore Miller Fellow. She is honored to be helping young people grow and learn, while providing local nonprofits with talented workers.

Sophia Gisslen
Youth Facilitator - Yellow Springs Youth Action Board

Sophia is a senior at Yellow Springs High School who is committed to fighting for social and climate justice and loves creating positive change in her community. She first became interested in philanthropy and community involvement when she joined SPIDEE (Students Promoting Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity through Education) her freshman year. She has since gone on to co-found an environmental club, co-lead and organize weekly local Black Lives Matter Rallies, and become the new student leader of SPIDEE. She is very excited to currently be serving as a youth facilitator for the Yellow Springs Youth Action Board.

Arielle Johnson
Youth Facilitator - Yellow Springs Youth Action Board

Arielle Johnson is a senior at Yellow Springs High School. This past summer she became a youth organizer for the Black Lives Matter movement in Yellow Springs, OH. She co-led these rallies and protests starting in July and is currently planning their return in the spring. She is also a co-founder of the Yellow Springs High School Ecology club and youth facilitator for the Youth Action Board.

Jeremy Katz
YouthCharge Guide - Immigrants/Refugees Board

Jeremy’s professional background is in non-profit social enterprise and youth leadership development. He moved to Colorado from San Diego to enjoy outdoor adventures in the Rocky Mountains. He currently serves as the guide for the Immigrants/Refugees YouthCharge Board.

Maria Alsubhi
YouthCharge Guide - Race/Equity Group A

Maria is a junior at CU Boulder studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with minors in Sociology and Leadership and a Certificate in Public Health. She first learned about her passion for nonprofit work when she joined YouthRoots in 2017 as a senior in high school; the experience was so amazing that it changed the trajectory of her career choices from business to nonprofit. She's worked with YouthRoots as an intern in the past and is currently serving on the YouthCharge Race/Equity A Board.

Alexandria Timoll
Curriculum Specialist

Alexandria's journey in the classroom started five years ago after graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in Childhood Education and Psychology. She continued her education at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and earned her MA in teaching with a concentration on urban education. Her passion for urban education drives the work she does in the classroom, writing curriculum, and mentoring preservice teachers.

Karen Yi
Communications Coordinator

Karen Yi is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles and participated on the Douglas County Youth Board during high school. She started web design as a college freshman as a way to combine her interests in art and computer science. In the past, she has designed T-shirts, posters, banners, flyers, and murals for various school organizations. She hopes to open her own online store one day.

Board of Directors

Katie Payer

Katie owns Katie Payer Consulting, which provides clients with focused and high-quality support in creating engaging, thoughtful, and impactful programs to fill the void in events and company content. Previously, Katie was the VP of Communications at Young Americans Center for Financial Education. Katie graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in marketing and communication. She resides in Denver with her husband, daughter, and son.

Katie Peterson
Vice Chair

Katie Peterson is a Senior Principal in Accenture’s Communications and High-tech Strategy practice. Her experience includes consulting to software and telecommunications companies where she has helped clients in the areas of growth strategy, go-to-market strategy and merger integration.

Adam Sands

Adam Sands is an Executive Vice President for FirstBank, specializing in real estate lending. He currently serves on the Denver Civic Ventures Board for the Downtown Denver Partnership and is an active member of multiple committees. Adam is also a Board Member of the KATA Foundation. Adam received his degree in Business from the University of Northern Colorado and a Graduate Banking degree from the Pacific Coast Banking School in Seattle, WA.

Lacey Books

Lacey’s long-standing passion with youth philanthropy began in high school in Sioux Falls, SD. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a BA in Neuroscience and went on to earn her teaching certificate. In 2010, Lacey decided it was time to follow her true passion, inspiring youth to act on their big ideas. Lacey enjoys spending time with her three daughters and husband, as well as sailing, skiing, and hiking.

Varunavi (Vv) Battula
Board Member

Vv is a senior at Cherokee Trail High School currently residing as her school’s NHS Vice President of Community Service. She strives to connect her community however she can as she has done as a freshman mentor and as a Children’s Hospital volunteer. Her favorite hobby is creating entertaining art, helping her achieve her goal of bringing laughter to those around her and building a positive environment.

Brian Gonzales
Board Member

Brian is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Addiction Counselor dedicated to the growth and development of helping professionals, inclusive learning and community partnerships, and best practices for client and worker success. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at the Graduate School of Social Work, and sits on various boards and committees at the school.

Kevin Graff
Board Member

Kevin is a Partner and CFO of Oakwood Real Estate Partners, LLC, a Denver-based real estate investment company. His career in real estate and finance began in New York after getting his BS in Business from CU Boulder. He also has an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. Kevin now lives in Stapleton with his wife, Brooke, and their three children.

Miguel In Suk Lovato
Board Member

Miguel has a bachelor’s in Psychology and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado-Denver. He has worked directly with low-income and at-risk youth in various capacities. Miguel is currently a Senior Program Officer with the Colorado Health Foundation. At home, he enjoys watching Star Wars movies with his daughter.

Dele Johnson
Board Member

Dele is a 21st century “Renaissance Man” when it comes to digital communications and media. As a Communications Associate at The Denver Foundation, he supports both internal and external communications. His role with the Foundation spans from website and social media content management to helping his colleagues understand and use the latest features on Zoom. Dele is a passionate and dedicated volunteer in the Denver community.

Andrea Leyva
Board Member

My name is Andrea Leyva and I will be a senior at Global Leadership Academy this fall. Where I have grown up there has been many obstacles that have made it harder for us to reach our goals. I am committed to work and serve for my community and uplift my fellow classmates to believe in themselves.

K.C. Matthews
Board Member

K.C. holds a Bachelor and Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering and is a registered Professional Engineer. He is presently the Traffic Standards and Specifications Manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. K.C. is very active in the Denver Metro Area and has received numerous community service awards for his work. He and his wife of 25+ years, Mary, have three children (one a YouthRoots alumnae!) and one granddaughter.

Lisa Rucker
Board Member

Lisa Rucker joined the Gates Family Foundation in April of 2014. She is the primary Foundation staff for the capital grants program, and oversees the Foundation's grant management system. Lisa is a graduate of Towson University in Maryland. In her free time, Lisa enjoys playing outside with her family and perfecting her Pho recipe.

Steven Szymanski
Board Member

Steven grew up in Winnetka, Illinois and attended the University of Denver for business. After serving in Vietnam, he completed a 40 year career as a Commercial Real Estate Developer. Steven is married and has a daughter who is currently a CSU student.

YouthRootsMeet the Team